§ 32. Mr. Fairbairn
asked the Lord Advocate how many persons were convicted of contempt of court since January 1973 by a court of first instance; and what was the number of disposals which involved a fine and a custodial sentence, respectively.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)
In 1973 the number of persons convicted of contempt of court by courts of first instance in Scotland was 149. Of those convicted, 119 were fined, 12 received custodial sentences, and 18 were otherwise disposed of by admonition, deferred sentence, and so on.
In 1974 the provisional figures disclose that 194 persons were convicted of contempt of court by courts of first instance in Scotland. Of those convicted, 153 were fined, 16 received custodial sentences and 25 were otherwise disposed of by admonition, deferred sentence, and so on.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
In view of the increasing concern about the application and procedures of the law of contempt of court in Scotland, whereby the court of first instance may be one of two courts, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman remit to the Scottish Law Commission the question of the practice and procedure of the law of contempt as a matter of urgency? Although these matters are necessarily summary powers, the fact that they may in certain circumstances be powers of an equivalent solemn nature means that the present procedures are unsatisfactory and are causing considerable public alarm.
§ The Lord Advocate
One has to have a sense of proportion when dealing with these matters. The figures that I have given show that the cases of contempt disposed of by custodial sentence constitute only about one-twelfth of the total. I take note of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but I would inform 1389 him that the Phillimore Committee, which reported recently, bears very much on this matter. The Government have the recommendations of the Phillimore Committee under urgent consideration.
§ Mr. Canavan
Bearing in mind that a recent case of contempt of court referred to a meeting of my constituency of the Army of the Provisional Government of Scotland, will my right hon. and learned Friend consult the Secretary of State to see that every possible legal and security measure is taken to ensure that such meetings do not recur, particularly on Saturday in Bannockburn at the SNP rally?
§ The Lord Advocate
The case to which my hon. Friend refers is sub judice and it would be wrong for me to make any comment on it. As regards my hon. Friend's general comments, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have heard his strictures about security.